Chamber music rises as temperatures fall

Harold DuckettUncategorized

Last Sunday evening in Oak Ridge, the chamber music season rushed in with Oak Ridge Civic Music Association‘s first program in ORCMA’s Coffee Concert Series. Violinist Sean Claire and cellist D. Scot Williams presented a program of all Bach music.


There’s an often quoted line from 18th century Holy Roman and Habsburg Emperor Joseph II, the brother of Marie Antoinette, the French queen of “Let them eat cake” fame. After the premiere of 26-year-old Wolfgang Mozart’s 1782 opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” commissioned by the Joseph II, the emperor reportedly remarked to Mozart, “Too lovely for our ears, and far too many notes,” to which Mozart replied, “Only as many as required.”

Sunday evening, Claire and Williams played the four canons, Contrapuntus XII, XIII, XIV and XV, from J. S. Bach’s 1740-1750 “Art of the Fugue.” The collection of 14 fugues and four canons, written over the last decade of Bach’s life, was left unfinished. But they are the quintessential example of a blitz of notes, intended to be played at a machine-like pace. Both Claire and Williams were masters of the driving rhythm of 1/8 and 1/16 notes, keeping impeccable time with their off-set musical lines.

As breaks from the relentlessness of the canons, Williams played Bach’s “Suite #3 in C Major for Solo Cello,” BWV 1009, from Bach’s collection of six unaccompanied cello suites, and Claire played “Partita #2 in D Minor for Solo Violin,” BWV 1004. The baroque model of lots of notes are still in both. But they are both also about emotional expression.

Both Claire and Williams have built solid careers as ensemble musicians, mostly orchestral playing. As a member of an orchestra, going on your own expressive adventure will get a reprimand from the conductor. But solo playing is another creature altogether. If there are any weaknesses in Claire’s and Williams’s playing, it’s making the shift from concentrating mostly on rhythm and ensemble coordination to using tone, volume and stretching note values to allow the music to tell a story.

Claire and Williams got the month of September chamber music off to a solid start. But there’s plenty more of both solo and chamber music ensembles. Playing in quartets, quintets and similar groups, are more like ensembles of soloists than they micro-orchestras. Every player is responsible for making his instrument’s voice speak, while carrying on a musical conversation with the others.

September 12, at 5 p.m., brings saxophonist Shawna Pennock to the University of Tennessee’s Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall at the Natalie Haslam Music Center. Pennock’s program is designed to help engage young saxophonists in the world of extended techniques, the new approaches to playing that include singing into mouthpieces, deliberate tongue clicking, knocking on the instrument, multiphonics and other things that would horrify traditional musicians.

Music has always been about reflecting and commenting on its time. The new music of the young composers Pennock has programmed picks up the sounds of modern life and new ways of conveying it in music.

The Lyon Piano Trio comes to UT on Sept. 12, and the Eastern Standard Trio on Sept. 22. Solo recitals will feature pianist Hans Boepple Thurs., Sept. 21 and international cellist Colin Carr will play Wed., Sept. 27 in an especially interesting program of the complete Bach suites for solo cello. All concerts at 8 p.m.

The Knoxville Symphony kicks off its chamber music season with the Q Series at noon Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Square Room at Cafe 4 on Market Square. It’s a one-hour lunchtime performance. This one featuring the KSO’s Principal Quartet.

Certainly one of the concerts I’m most looking forward to is Trillium Piano Trio‘s performance of Beethoven’s “Piano Trio #7 in B Flat Major,” Op. 97, known as the “Archduke,” in the Lambert Recital Hall of the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College, Saturday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. Also on the program is a Haydn duet for violin and cello.

Local musicians violinist Alison Marker Garner, cellist Alicia Randisi-Hooker and Maryville College professor emeritus Robert Bonham are the members of Trillium.

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